Do Conference Session Learning Objectives Really Matter?

This is the last in a series of posts on writing better conference session descriptions. Read the previous posts Conference Descriptions That Whet The Appetite, an overview of the four elements of a successful conference description, How To Write Killer Conference Session Titles That Attract Attendees and Crafting Better Conference Materials: Writing Session Descriptions For Dummies.

Road Trip Plans

When planning a road trip, you usually start with the final destination in mind.

Rarely do you take a spontaneous, free-for-all trip with no idea of where you’ll finally end. Unless you’re on the run like Bonnie and Clyde or Thelma and Louise.

Once you decide the final destination, you meticulous plot the path to get you there. If it’s a long trip, you decide where you may want to stop and spend the night. You might also decide which is the shortest route, the path least traveled or even detours to take around construction sites or known highways with traffic congestion.

Your Education Session Guideposts: Learning Objectives (Outcomes)

So, it is with conference session descriptions and learning objectives (LOs). Your LOs serve as guideposts along the path of your presentation to help your attendees learn and retain information. They are critical to the presentation and vital to your conference marketing materials.

When writing and creating conference LOs, it’s best to begin with the end in mind. This is also true when planning presentations. Start with the end in mind.

Two Critical Questions For Your LOs

Here are two critical questions to ask all speakers before they craft their session description and learning objectives.

  1. What do you want your attendees to remember?
  2. What three things do you want your attendees to recall upon leaving your presentation? Three to five main points is the maximum for a sixty- or ninety-minute presentation.

#2 is very important. If you can’t identify the three main points that your speaker wants your attendees to learn, you need to start over. It’s like planning a trip where you are on the run from the law–not knowing where you are going to go or where you’ll finally land.

And guess what? If your speaker can’t identify the three main points he/she wants the attendees to remember, the attendees can’t do it either. They will feel like they are lost as your speaker chases rabbit trails and runs from society.

So what do those three main points have to do with session descriptions and LOs? Those three main points should be turned into the primary LOs for the presentation. Then you have the perfect roadmap for attendees learning and conference marketing. You know where the presenter plans to go and how he’s going to get there.

Why LOs Are Important

The LOs or outcomes are statements that describe what the learner will gain from participating in the presentation. The emphasis is on what the learner will do, not what the presenter will do.

So why are LOs so important? Why should you use them in your conference marketing material?

LOs help to:

  • Focus on attendee’s behavior that is to be changed
  • Facilitate the learning
  • Direct the attendee on which sessions best meet their needs
  • Convey to attendees exactly what is to be learned
  • Increase the chance that the presenter and learner end up in the same place of instruction
  • Serve as guidelines for content, instruction and evaluation

Three Distinguishing Characteristics Of Good LOs

So how do you develop and craft good LOs?

LOs specifically address a learner’s action and must be

  • observable
  • measurable
  • done by the learners (It’s not something done by the presenter. It’s action taken by the attendee.)

The ultimate test when writing a LO is whether or not the action taken by the participants can be assessed immediately upon their departure from the presentation. If not, the outcome probably does met meet all three of the characteristics.

Look at those two LO examples

LOs Examples
After participating in this presentation, the attendee will be able to:

  • Understand the nine reasons for conducting a needs assessment.
  • Develop an appreciation of cultural diversity in the workplace.

Ask yourself, “Can they be measured immediately at the end of the presentation?” No, these two LOs are not easily measured. (Measuring understanding is difficult.)

Let’s modify these two LOs so that they have action verbs and can be measured.

LOs Examples Modified
After participating in this presentation, the attendee will be able to:

  • List the nine reasons for conducting a needs assessment.
  • Summarize in writing or conversation their feelings about cultural diversity in the workplace.

Those small adjustments make the LOs more effective and measurable.

Taking LOs Deeper

With intention and foresight, you can create LOs that move from lower order thinking skills (LOTS) to higher-level critical thinking skills (HOTS).

Benjamin Bloom, a Jewish-American educational psychologist, is credited with creating Bloom’s Taxonomy, a six-level classification of learning objectives. The six levels provide a nice stair step process to learning moving from LOTS to HOTS.

The six levels are:

  1. Knowledge
  2. Comprehension
  3. Application
  4. Analysis
  5. Synthesis
  6. Evaluation

Unfortunately, most conference presentations are focused on the knowledge level with memorization and regurgitation of facts. Rarely, do presentations proceed from knowledge to application to evaluation.

Now that you understand the importance of LOs to the presenter and the attendee’s learning, here is a list of measurable verbsas applied to the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Use them when crafting your next LOs.

In Conclusion

Requiring LOs from all of your presenters and then ensuring that you include LOs in your conference marketing materials is a great way to provide a perfect roadmap to your next conference or event education experience.

What questions do you have about LOs? How have you seen LOs used in marketing materials in the past?

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  1. eventjp (on twitter) says:

    Verbs to use for clear learning objectives: “At the end of this session, participants will be able to…”
    Define, State, Plan, Choose, Compare, Operate, Identify, Name, Select, Explain, Use, Demostrate, List, Write, Describe, Contrast, Recognize, Design.

    Verbs to avoid: Learn, Think, Appreciate, Understand, Know, Discover, Infer, Determine

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by ZeristaSoftware: RT: Do Conference Session Learning Objectives Really Matter?: This is the last in a series of posts on wri…

  3. […] There’s nothing wrong with collecting articles of interest and novelty. Some of them might very well fit into a course design. But ultimately, every item should be measured against the session learning objectives. […]

  4. Howard says:

    Perfect analogy! I have always started a conference with the end in mind and worked my way back to the beginning. This ensure guidance and a concise expectation of outcome and process to achieve the outcome for the meeting.

  5. Mike Kemp says:

    Howard you are right. I too start at the end, however online conferencing is a little more delicate and may require a different approach. Now, if I understand, this is a guide for preparing a conference that is educational, rather than a typical business conference that has a specific goal already established. I guess if it is the latter, then the audience can be measured by the company achievement over the agreed performance indicator time frame. Whereas for educational conferences that are made up of an audience from different backgrounds, the immediate measure may require an evaluation at the conclusion of the conference.

  6. bob says:

    Good information; thanks. The link for list of measuarble verbs doesnt work (404 error).

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks Bob for the heads up. I’ve fixed the link. Here it is as well:

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